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the everyman memoirs

The official blog of author Tali Nay.
SEP
09

Our Version of Truth

A fan of Ira Glass and his weekly This American Life broadcasts (LaDonna, anyone??), I haven't been able to shake the story told in last week's How I got into College episode. The one about the Bosnian student who believed a certain teacher's reaction to an essay he wrote was the catalyst for the series of occurances that ultimately led him to success. Listening to the student's version, it's a great story. One that makes clear not only the gratitude he has for her impact upon his life, but also pinpoints the exact moment, the specific thing, that started the chain reaction. In this case, the essay. In the student's mind, if he hadn't written that essay, if his teacher hadn't read it, if she hadn't then told him he needed to get himself to a better school and then created the opportunity for him to do so, then he wouldn't be where he is today. It was the essay, see. The essay was the thing.

Interestingly, when they tracked down the teacher years later, she debunked the student's theory, assuring him the essay had played no part. She'd been watching him for months, she says, observing his talents and capabilities and determining he needed more than their school could offer long before he'd ever written the essay. You could tell from the student's reaction that he was having a hard time accepting this. He kept trying to bring the essay back into the conversation, even suggesting that while not the main driver then, it at least contributed to her determination that he needed a new school. Sounding almost frustrated, as if she'd realized he was twisting the story to his own end, she wouldn't even give him that. The essay was not the thing.

The teacher further claims that she can't take as much credit as the student gives her, in that she knew he was bound for greatness and fully believes he would have achieved it even without her help in getting admitted to a new high school. And it's a rather tragic thing, to watch (or in this case listen to) a person's core belief dissolve right in front of them. He'd counted on this. He told the story at every dinner party. It was the reason he had succeeded. 

The interviewer asked the student toward the end of the episode if he was going to start telling it differently now that he knew the truth, but he said he wouldn't. To him, it was reality. It was how he had observed a very significant series of life events. And this may seem sneaky, but the thing is, I kind of get it. Not having the full background, he built this memory around how he perceived what happened, (he wrote an essay, his teacher suggested a new school) and knowing nothing else, it became his doctrine. His truth. It's a reminder, not just of how fragile and shakable our memories can be, but also of how powerfully the most important ones can be rooted into our very being. To the point where we need them preserved, intact, and whole just to survive.

 

SEP
13

In Defense of Podcasts...and Marriage

I was in Oregon over the weekend to celebrate my grandparents’ 60th wedding anniversary. Which might not seem like much—they were a regular small-town couple who raised regular small-town children and had regular small-town problems (including cars that almost never worked)—except think about that for a minute. Think about people you know who have been married for 60 years. Do you know any? My grandparents are both now in their eighties, and lots of people don’t even live that long. And of the ones who do, a large contingent don’t stay married, or at least to the same person. It really is remarkable. Of course, reaching any kind of marriage milestone (even, like, one year) seems miraculous to the eternal singleton that is me. Indeed, I’m convinced that every single committed, loving relationship is nothing short of a miracle. But 60 years? That’s a whole different level.

Book clubs have (surprisingly) never been my thing. I don’t enjoy reading books that I mostly wouldn’t have chosen to read myself. And so I certainly don’t then enjoy discussing books that I mostly wouldn’t have chosen to read myself. But a friend of mine recently recruited me for a Podcast club, and it’s pretty much the best thing ever. For starters, it’s less of a time commitment, and podcasts can be listened to while accomplishing any number of tasks. And another great thing about podcasts is they so often leave you smack dab in the middle of some kind of philosophical or moral debate. Animal hunting, the treatment of rape victims and perpetrators, the appropriateness of hope in the parents of autistic children, the vast differences in the frames of reference of American children and their much less fortunate foreign parents, the inescapable depression of the 2016 political situation, etc. I mean, these are hot issues. They are issues that will most definitely make you think—no, emote—at a level that most books do not. And what I find so fascinating is that most podcasts have the ability to make me waffle from one side to the other as the various points and perspectives are discussed. And any medium that can cause so many facets of your own conscience to come to the surface within such a short amount of time is clearly onto something.

To bring this back to 60 years of marriage, one of the podcasts I listened to this week centered on this idea of reruns; or, in the case of the married couples interviewed for the podcast, the issue of stories you hear your spouse tell over and over again, to the point of driving you absolutely crazy. I’d never really thought about this dilemma before. Again, as a singleton, I always have a new audience (a different date, a different squeeze, a different boyfriend), and I’ve never really run into this issue. But think of how this could come into play for people like my darling grandparents. “Honey, I’ve literally heard that story a hundred times.” It’s rather amusing to think about, especially after listening to the podcast, in which the annoyed spouses (the ones sick of the other person’s stories) were surprisingly unable to successfully tell the stories themselves, even after supposedly having heard them ad nauseam. On the other end of the spectrum, some of these people had gotten so used to their spouse’s stories that they believed they themselves had actually been there when they, in fact, had not. That one’s almost equally amusing—and not all that unlike my own discovery some years ago that my favorite childhood memory apparently never happened. I’d imagined it so often, every detail easy to recollect, that I had convinced myself (and if I’m being honest still sort of believe) it was real.

In any case, I guess one of the hallmarks of a red-letter marriage is that even after 60 years, you still enjoy hearing him/her tell the same stories. And you can’t wait to create more, together. Happy anniversary, Grandma and Grandpa. I’m pretty sure you two are going to make it.